When he concluded his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards with a request for team president Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman to take him third overall, Bradley Bealprobably didn’t imagine that his proximity to the White House would mean he’d have a chance to meet President Obama before his team won a championship.
With nine games remaining in an eventful rookie season, Beal got the opportunity when he joined teammates John Wall, Nene and Emeka Okafor in a basketball clinic for kids during the annual Easter Egg Roll. The hoops-loving leader of the free world took — and missed, and missed again — several jumpers on the courts located on the White House lawn.
Beal cut the president some slack since he was wearing slacks, loafers and a collared shirt, but resisted the urge to walk over and give some tips on his shooting form. He settled on telling Obama to move a little closer to the basket.
“I was about to offer some political advice,” Beal said, cracking a smile before saying that he would recommend Obama “lower some taxes.”
Life as part of the 1 percent certainly presents its own set of challenges, especially for a 19-year-old on his first job. But Beal should be okay if he handles them as well as his first season in the NBA. Already, he has dealt with some early shooting struggles, concerns that he would be another Wizards draft bust, a historically bad opening stretch of losses, the overwhelming pressures of being a high draft pick, trade rumors and injuries to his back, wrist and ankle.
Following that initial fire, Beal responded with a string of successful scoring performances, buzzer-beating shots and game-saving plays and now finds himself as half of a potentially lethal young backcourt with Wall and an essential building block for the Wizards’ efforts to regain respectability.
“The game slowed down for me,” Beal said. “I was trying to prove something too early, just trying to do too much and then I let the game come to me and do what I know I’m capable of doing. Throughout the whole rest of the year, I’ve done that, just staying confident.”
Beal is the Wizards’ second-leading scorer at 14 points per game and on pace to finish with the 10th highest scoring average of any rookie in franchise history — just ahead of Wes Unseld. He wants to end the season in good health and help the Wizards (27-46) possibly rise to ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Philadelphia 76ers by three games as they prepare to host the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday at Verizon Center. Either way, Beal has already left quite an impression on his teammates and coaches.
“He’s been great all year,” teammate A.J. Price said. “He started off slow the first few weeks, which is kind of expected – 19 coming into the NBA — but since then, he’s been, in my eyes, the best rookie in the NBA. Just been really consistent.”
The rookie of the year award has been Portland point guard Damian Lillard’s to lose since the season opener, but Beal did his best to make the race interesting from Jan. 1 to March 3, when he averaged 17.4 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 49.1 percent from three-point range. Beal scored a career-high 29 points against New York, beat Oklahoma City with a running one-hander as time expired, forced double overtime with a three-pointer against Brooklyn and snagged a decisive rebound in a win over Houston.
But his momentum was halted by a fluky ankle injury in the fourth quarter of a home win against Philadelphia, as he landed awkwardly and tearfully before needing his teammates to carry him off the court. He returned after missing six games and aggravated the injury in his third game when his ankle bent sideways again while contesting a shot in Phoenix.
“Before the injury, no doubt, I thought I had a chance,” Beal said of winning the top rookie honors. “That injury kind of hurt me.”
Back after missing 11 games with a severely sprained left ankle, Beal scored a game-high 24 points and matched his career-high with six three-pointers in the Wizards’ 109-92 victory on Sunday over the Toronto Raptors.
“He didn’t skip a beat. If he’s here, then he’s here for a reason and every minute he’s on the court, he shows why,” said Okafor, who won rookie of the year in Charlotte in 2004-05 at age 22. “His age, if anything, just shows how good he can become. I think he’s handling it just fine. He’s never held his head low. Always been in good spirits.”
Wall returned from a stress injury in his left knee and Beal became the complement that the Wizards had envisioned as he took advantage of the open looks and became a consistent threat from the perimeter. “I feel like right before I came, it was great to see him playing at a high level. He started to find his rhythm,” Wall said. “It takes time to figure it out. When I came, I just wanted to get him more easier shots and help boost his confidence.”
Beal took his initial lumps, studied film, worked to correct his flaws and spent countless hours in the gym. A switch went on once the calendar hit the new year, and Beal cannot pinpoint how or when it happened, only that the source of the improved play came from within.
“I love to figure out things on my own, I’m kind of independent. My family gives me tips here or there and my coaches, but I always take it upon myself, like, ‘What do I need to do?’ ” Beal said, explaining how he survived the initial storm. “I’ve always had that since I was a young kid. I’ve always been hard on myself, my mom’s been hard on me, my family, everybody.
“But I always felt like I wanted to do better than I did. I could score 50 points and be like, I should’ve made those free throws or shouldn’t have missed those shots. That’s just the type of player I am. And that’s what keeps me humble and wanting to get better the next game.”